A task force that spent the 2012-13 academic year conducting a comprehensive study of Western Carolina University’s academic programs to assess their quality, productivity and connections to the university’s mission and strategic directions released its recommendations Wednesday, May 22.
The Academic Program Prioritization Task Force, composed of faculty, students and academic administrators, examined all undergraduate and graduate programs as part of an effort designed to give WCU leaders the information they need in order to make decisions regarding the best allocation of limited resources and to ensure that the university remains focused on strong academic programs aligned to its mission.
A public forum about the program prioritization process, the task force recommendations, and future directions and implementation of final decisions once they are reached will be held Wednesday, June 5, beginning at 3:30 p.m. The session will be held in the theater of A.K. Hinds University Center. Participants at the forum will be Mark Lord, interim associate provost; Vicki Szabo, associate professor of history and co-chair of the task force; David Belcher, chancellor; and Beth Lofquist, interim provost. The focus for the forum is the program prioritization process. General questions about the process are welcome, but questions about specific programs will not be addressed at the forum.
The task force is recommending that the majority of the 130 programs it studied be retained at current resource levels. Those 96 programs have been categorized as functioning at appropriate levels.
Eight programs were assessed as “truly exceptional and high-performing,” and designated for potential enhancement as additional resources become available. Those eight are bachelor’s degree programs in emergency medical care, environmental science, natural resource conservation and management, nursing, parks and recreation management, and recreational therapy; and master’s degree programs in communication sciences and disorders, and social work.
The report identified 13 programs – two undergraduate minors, four undergraduate majors and seven graduate-level programs – for phased discontinuation. Those programs are minors in broadcast sales and women’s studies; bachelor’s degree programs in German, motion picture and television production, Spanish and Spanish education; and master’s degree programs in health and physical education, mathematics, mathematics education, music, music education and two master’s programs related to teaching English to speakers of other languages.
The task force also identified five programs – one minor, two undergraduate programs and two graduate programs – as needing to develop action plans to address weaknesses and take steps toward improvement. Those programs are an undergraduate minor in residential environments; bachelor’s programs in middle grades education, and stage and screen; and master’s programs in chemistry, and elementary and middle grades education.
Six undergraduate minors, one undergraduate major and one graduate-level program have agreed to voluntarily discontinue operations because of low enrollment or similarity to other programs available at WCU. Those programs are undergraduate minors in American studies, Appalachian studies, broadcast telecommunications engineering technology, digital communications engineering technology, earth sciences and multimedia; an undergraduate program in business designed as a second major for non-business students; and a master’s degree program in chemistry education.
The recommendations go to WCU Chancellor David O. Belcher, who will make decisions on the future of the programs recommended for discontinuation. Leaders of those programs will have an opportunity to appeal over the summer, with final decisions from Belcher expected by the end of July.
Academic program prioritization is part of an overarching university initiative to closely examine all of its operations to ensure that they are functioning as effectively and efficiently as possible during a period of reduced resources from the state, said Mark Lord, WCU’s acting provost. The university has absorbed more than $32 million in cuts to state funding since the 2008-09 fiscal year, and additional reductions are expected this year.
“As our chancellor has said, we simply do not have the resources to do everything that we would like to do,” Lord said. “We must focus our resources and energies on those academic programs that are most closely aligned with the university’s mission and to the region that we serve. The university will emerge from this process a stronger institution that is well-positioned to provide high-quality academic experiences to our students.”
Any academic programs slated for discontinuation after Belcher makes his final decisions on the recommendations would not be closed immediately. The university would “teach out” students who currently are enrolled in those programs or help them transition into a similar program at WCU or to another institution as it follows best practices for the discontinuation of academic programs.
Decisions to eliminate academic programs are subject to the approval of the University of North Carolina system. Western Carolina also must follow specific guidelines required by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, WCU’s official accrediting agency.
Program prioritization is not expected to affect a large number of students, as most programs recommended for discontinuation do not have high enrollment.
The full list of the task force’s recommendations, which are contained in the first part of a two-phased final report, can be found online at the website programprioritization.wcu.edu, along with detailed information about the process. The second part of the report, which will include broader observations about the university and recommendations for future prioritization efforts and ongoing program assessment, is expected to be released in June.